The New Worker

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Week commencing 30th June 2000

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Editorial - Poverty kills.
Lead Story - Mugabe's party wins in Zimbabwe.
Feature - Corus faces further job devastation.
International - Galloway slams gore over Iraq.
British News - Real doctors attack Labour's spin doctors.

Editorial

Poverty kills

LAST week we heard that Britain came only 18th in the world in a health survey conducted by the WHO (World Health Organisation). Now we find that a Unicef (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund) study puts Britain in 20th place (out of 23 countries) in a league table of child poverty. The study found that four million British children are affected by poverty.

 British social scientists and medical statisticians are also expressing concern at Britain's unacceptably high infant mortality rate. Their studies have linked the problem to the widening gap between rich and poor.

 The number of low birth weight babies is rising as well as the number of infant deaths from preventable infections.

 Everyone knows that expectant mothers need a well balanced diet, decent housing and good quality ante-natal and post-natal care. It is therefore not surprising the report found that babies born into the poorest families are, on average, twice as likely to die in infancy as those born into rich families.

 The studies have also pointed out that the provision of doctors, midwives and paediatricians varies considerably from region to region.

 These reports, like the WHO report into health, do not reflect the overall economic Power of a country -- the wealthy United States for instance has an even worse infant mortality rate than Britain.

 This evidence needs to be raised urgently with the government and our MPs. The regional inequalities in maternity care must be overcome and the underlying problem of child poverty seriously addressed -- not with platitudes and promises but with hard cash to raise benefit levels for families and expectant mothers, including raising Child Benefit, to increase the stock and quality of social housing and to improve ante-natal services.

 These measures will certainly help. But they will not solve the problem. For that we need to struggle to end the capitalist system and the poverty it causes and start to build a socialist society capable of eradicating poverty.

 These reports do not of course specifically point the finger at capitalism. But the evidence they contain shows the nature of this profit-hungry system at work in the world. It shows that the wealth of capitalist countries is always concentrated in a minority of hands while poverty affects more and more people.

 It shows that the rich do not just get richer in isolation -- their gains are at the expense of everyone else, with the poorest becoming even poorer and their ranks growing all the time.

 In the same weekas the Unicef report was published, the world heard that scientists had unravelled the complete human DNA map. Humanity, we are told, stands on the brink of being able to make many medical breakthroughs. This new tool for research could open the door to finding cures and treatments for many diseases and genetic disorders.

 But we are also being warned that individual human genes have already been patented by drug companies and others eager to profit from the discovery. In the leading capitalist countries big business interests see this as a new gold rush rather than a golden opportunity for humanity.

 The ethos of capitalism will drive for profits and this will force up the price of new drugs and treatments. The discovery, like so many in the past, could extend the lives of wealthy people in Palm Springs while babies still die from want of clean water and simple treatments for gastro-enteritis in many countries of the developing world.

 Already we have seen that AIDS patients in Africa are excluded by poverty from receiving those treatments currently available to sufferers in the developed world.

 The benefits of modern technology and scientific research are debased by capitalism. We need to match these advances with the greatest breakthrough of all -- a fundamental change of society that gives the gains of science to everyone.

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Lead Story

Mugabe's party wins in Zimbabwe

ZIMBABWE'S ruling ZANU-PF party has beaten off a stiff challenge from the Western-backed Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) at last weekend's parliamentary elections. But it was a close-run race.

 With all the votes now counted in President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF won 62 seats while the MDC took 57. The independent ZANU (Ndonga) party retained its one seat. Though this leaves ZANU-PF ahead by just five seats the President has the right to appoint another 30 MPs and this would easily give his party a working majority.

 The MDC now have enough votes in parliament to block future constitutional amendments but their failure to topple ZANU-PF has been a clear disappointment to the British government. British imperialism made no secret of its wish to see Mugabe's party out and a pliant pro-Western government in after the polls.

 Now they will still have to deal with Mugabe, who is still secure as president and a new government largely or perhaps entirely composed of his supporters. And ZANU-PF has made it clear that it will not back down in its support for the war-vets and landless peasants demand for the breakup of the vast estates of the white planters to give them some land to live on and farm.

 President Mugabe was in a conciliatory mood on Tuesday, at least to the opposition, when he went on television to congratulate his party and the opposition for their efforts. He said he was ready to work with the new parliament "to build a united and prosperous Zimbabwe".

 "The results are out and these bind us, winner or loser," Mugabe said. "I look forward to working with the new parliament as we grapple with the challenges facing the nation,".

 Four million people voted in the elections which African and some overseas monitors agreed was fair and free. The opposition, an alliance of right-wing politicians, some trade union leaders and the white commercial farmers did well in the cities but the ZANU-PF vote held in the poor rural areas.

 British imperialism is starting to throw its weight around Africa again particularly in its former colonies. Now the British government is trying to pressurise Mugabe into accepting a coalition. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said on Wednesday that the time was right for "national reconciliation". He added that Britain would still deliver the £6 million aid-package to fund land reform but only if Mugabe adopted policies which "respond to the needs of the people,".

 Cook promised a "fresh start" with Zimbabwe but only if the new government pursued "policies of reform and national reconciliation". What that means in imperialist double-talk is reining in the land-reform movement and driving the squatters off the white settlers estates and giving the opposition seats in government so that they can better argue the case for doing the bidding of the tobacco companies and the other Western interests in the country.

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Feature

Corus faces further job devastation

by Caroline Colebrook

THE GIANT steel company, Corus, last week warned that further job cuts are likely, on top of the 1,430 job losses announced earlier this month.

 The company was formed from a merger between British Steel and the Dutch company Hoogovens last October.

 Since then some 2,200 job losses have been announced, including 1,200 in South Yorkshire. Another 200 were cut at Port Talbot in Wales as well as a research and development plant.

 Chairperson Sir Brian Moffat said: "Job reductions and closures of plants are always a matter of regret. However, the serious erosion of the competitive position of the group and its customer base in Britain, as a result of the strength of the pound against the Euro, inevitably means further difficult decisions will have to be taken in order to improve our competitive position."

This remark came just as figures were released showing the company had an operating loss before tax of £ll3 million in the six months up to 1 April.

 But this is an improvement on the previous year's loss of £250 million. Also turnover was up at £4.6 billion compared to £2.8 billion before last October and the merger with Hoogovens.

 Unions reacted angrily to the possibility of yet more cuts, warning that it will do "irreparable damage" to Britain's manufacturing industry.

 Speaking for the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation, Michael Leahy said: "I discussed the future direction of Corus with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Stephen Byers last week and told him of our concerns, not only for Workington but for all Corus plants.

 "He promised to speak to the company shortly and come back to the unions. It is essential that Corus does what it promised it would do -- keep steel plants configuration as it was at the time of the merger between British Steel and Hoogovens.

 "To cut jobs and plants now would be very short-term thinking, because the pound is weakening against the Euro and things are improving for Corus day by day. To take the axe to any further jobs would do irreparable damage, not only to jobs but to the British economy."

 Sir Brian Moffat claims the company losses were all incurred in carbon steel while stainless steel and aluminium made operating profits of £84 million and £45 million respectively.

 This means that the giant Corus works at Llanwern in South Wales is probably safe.

 And Moffat admits that "the market for carbon steel for the rest of 2000 appears to be generally strong, especially in the United States and European markets, though concern remains about demand in Britain, due to the relative strength of the pound."

 In other words, there is very little real justification for any more cuts.

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International

Galloway slams gore over Iraq

by our Middle East Affairs correspondent

GEORGE GALLOWAY, the Labour MP at the head of the British campaign to end the blockade of Iraq tore into US vice-president and Democrat presidential hopeful Al Gore for his support for the pro-imperialist "Iraqi National Congress" (INC).

 Gore met INC leader, northern Iraqi Kurdish rebels, and Iraqi Arab reactionary exiles largely unknown in their own country, last weekend. The INC delegation included Jalal Talabani and Nechirvan Barzani -- rival leaders of the two Kurdish parties that run the so-called northern Iraqi "safe-haven" under the protection of Anglo-American aircover. Others included Sherif Ali bin Hussein of the "Consdtutional Monarchy Movement" and two other pro-imperialist placemen.

 A joint statement said "The Vice-President reaffirmed the Administration's strong commitment to the objective of removing Saddam Hussein from power, and to bringing him and his inner circle to justice for their war crimes and crimes against humanity."

 It went on to say "the United States views the INC as an authoritative and representative voice for the people of Iraq in their struggle to free themselves from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. In particular, both sides discussed measures by which the INC could improve their ability to represent the will of the Iraqi people both inside Iraq and on the world stage,"

 This was met with derision from Galloway. "The decades of Zionist investment in Al Gore's political career are clearly paying off," he declared. "But most of the world will laugh at the proposition that the INC are anything other than a group of expensively hired nobodies bereft of credibility or support in Iraq or elsewhere. Their only claim to the millions of US dollars on which they live is that they are ready to be a slave government in exile taking their orders from the White House and reducing the great civilisation of Iraq to a mere vassal,".

 The Americans have agreed to train up to 145 INC members in skills such as field-medicine, logistics, computers, communications, broadcasting and power generation. The training plan is an escalation of support for the INC gangs by American imperialism whose air-force together with the RAF is bombing Iraq virtually every day.

 Galloway, the high-profile campaigner at the fore of the growing movement in Britain to halt the air-raids and end the blockade of Iraq was also in the news this week when he attacked the presence of the secret police at a fringe meeting at the annual conference of the British Medical Association.

 George was speaking on Iraq at the meeting which attracted the unwelcome attention of two Special Branch men last Sunday. This follows the attempt to intimidate an British-Iraqi doctor in Oxfordshire, Jerard Misconi, who had wanted to go on the government blocked Galloway peace flight to Baghdad.

 Galloway has written to Home Secretary Jack Straw in no uncertain terms. "I charge that the visit to the Misconis and the police presence at my BMA fringe meeting today were intimidation. They were an attempt to intimidate those increasing numbers in this country supporting the campaign to end the sanctions against Iraq," he wrote.

 Galloway has tabled an early day protest motion in the Commons backed by five other Labour MPs including Tam Dalyell, Tony Benn, Harry Cohen, Irene Adams and John McAllion about this abuse of police power.

 It read: "This House expresses it's concern at the use for political purposes of the Metropolitan Police: in particular the visit in March of this year by a Special Branch officer to the home of a British physician, Dr Misconi to caution him against attending a conference in Baghdad, this after Dr Misconi's name and address had been unwittingly supplied to the Foreign Office by the Honourable Member for Glasgow Kelvin [George Galloway] as a would-be passenger on a proposed flight from London to Baghdad; and the attendance by two Special Branch officers, taking notes, and presumably names, of those in attendance at the fringe meeting on the health situation in Iraq at the British Medical Association conference, addressed by the Member for Kelvin in the Abbey Community Centre in Gt. Smith Street on June 26th and considers that whilst the use of police for political purposes may be routine in some countries it should not become a feature of life in Great Britain."

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British News

Real doctors attack Labour's spin doctors

by Daphne Liddle

THE BRITISH Medical Association at its annual conference in London last week accused the Government of spending too much on gimmicks to court popularity and not nearly enough on the core activities of the NHS.

 They named initiatives such as NHS Direct -- which offers a 24-hour phone advice service staffed by nurses -- and town centre walk-in services and said these diverted money from core NHS services.

 Dr Jane Milson from Grimsby told the conference: "It's time for Tony Blair to admit he was wrong and abandon this foolish scheme [NHS Direct] so funds can be switched back into general practice."

 Dr Julian Neal from Portsmouth said: "Our health service must seek to provide high quality patient care rather than modernist, short-term consumerist initiatives."

 The doctors muted their criticisms a little in the hope that the coming NHS review, in which the Government will consult with doctors, is not just another cosmetic exercise in spin. They have been pressing for greater consultation for a long time. BMA chairperson Ian Bogle said: "I challenged the Government to stop spinning, stop railroading doctors into radical reform and start talking to doctors about the best way to modernise the health service and improve outcomes for patients.

 "The message has been hammered home time and again and it has got results. Following the Budget announcement in March, the Prime Minister offered to include us in the policy making process."

 Later he added: "I don't want to be too cynical. I have waited 13 years on the national scene to see a government that consulted."

 But many doctors remain cynical. Dr Ronald Timms of Southend said: "We still need to know how much and how this money is to be spent.
 Insistence on the short-term populist solutions proposed by the spin doetors has meant there is a loss of faith in the Government."

 And Dr Chaand Nagpaul from London said: "We implore the Government not to squander this money on some flighty ideals of modernisation hut to use it to get the basics rights, repair the cracks and make a real difference to the health of the population.

 One area where Government policy has led to health cuts was highlighted when Lothian University Hospitals Trust announced that savings equivalent to the cost of 19 consultants will have to be made if the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary Private Finance Initiative project is to go ahead.

 The trust admitted that 17 vacant vacancies will not now be filled and retiring doctors will not be replaced.

 The cuts were cited by Dr Evan Lloyd at the BMA conference as he spoke in support of a motion calling for PFI to be scrapped.

 The conference was warned to be prepared for more scandals of medical blunders and malpractice being exposed.

 Dr Ian Bogle said this was due to "the profession that gained a reputation for burying its mistakes getting better at digging them up".

 Another contentious issue before the conference was the breakdown of patient confidentiality as computerised health records are abused.

 Currently dozens of different people in the NHS, health authorities, local councils, universities, drug companies, computer firms and medical schools routinely have access to confidential information.

 Doctors expressed fears that patients would not confide in doctors if they thought other; would sec their records.

 Hospital doctor Rita Pal said: "Medical notes are in essence your life -- how many affairs you have, ifyou have an alcohol problem, do drugs, your sexual activity, your psychiatric state. They are all very personal issues. Yet patients have no control over their confidentiality."

 Marion Chester, legal officer at the Association of Community Health Councils, said: "Identifiable health records are flying around inside and outside the NHS at a rate of knots.

 "It's getting worse because of the increase in financial and clinical audit and the increasing use of information technology."

 Some instances were cited: a 68-year-old man barred from a care home after social services discovered from his records that he was gay; a woman sacked after her GP sent her records to her employer -- with details of previous mental health problems; patients with particular conditions being approached by researchers who have seen their records and one man from a strictly religious family who discovered his niece had had an abortion when the company he worked for did a financial audit of the local health authority. The BMA conference also heard the results of a poll which showed that 75 per cent of doctors want to see acupuncture more widely available on the NHS and better training given to doctors on its use.

 Already 58 per cent of doctors are referring some patients for acupuncture treatment. The BMA's Board of Science and Education found that acupuncture can help with a list of conditions including back pain, toothache and migraines.

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